The Vine, Grand Rapids

The Vine Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: The Vine Church, Grand Rapids
Location: Michigan, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 April 2023, 10:00am

The building

As a growing church plant meeting in a former Lutheran church, the Vine meets in the fellowship hall, and not in the larger sanctuary. The hall is a pleasing mix from the pre-80s with walls of brick and natural wood, and the ceiling an entirely exposed wooden structure. To the right, upper transom windows run the entire length, with a some lower, full-view windows. Along the left are classrooms entered directly off the main space. Hopefully they will grow to fill the main sanctuary, which has a magnificent, soaring wall of glass behind the pulpit.

The church

This is a friendly band of pilgrims, in a church plant in Grand Rapids, a city with a strong Christian presence. The focus of their website and services is missional – pointing to Jesus, with an emphasis on impacting the kids in their church as the next generation, and encouraging adult members to reach their neighbors.

The neighborhood

The church and fellowship hall are at the corner of a well-traveled road, which has a residential character. The fellowship hall is located behind the sanctuary, and is well buffered from any outside distractions.

The cast

The guest speaker, who is a former missionary, gave the greeting and the message. The worship leader read the announcements and led the band.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Morning Worship.

How full was the building?

There was seating for 100+ and the hall was about one-third full. However, there was a guest speaker scheduled, which may have affected the number of those who attended.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes, many. I arrived early and on the way in had a conversation with a very nice lady in the parking lot. The service was just starting when we entered. The guest speaker, who had spent 30 years in China as a missionary, had everyone greet one another as they do in services there, which was clasping your hands together and giving a slight bow to others around you as you wandered away from your seat. It actually was quite enjoyable.

Was your pew comfortable?

There were separate cushioned chairs that were comfortable enough.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

We spent so long in conversation on the way in that the service proper was just starting when we took our seats, so we didn’t experience the atmosphere beforehand. You are almost immediately in the seating area when you enter, so there were some conversations happening for those not yet seated, but it wasn’t distracting,

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning. I am not Pastor John. When he is 80, he will look like me without hair. I have spent 30 years in Asia, and not just because my wife is Chinese, but because I ministered there.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

No books. The hymns and Bible verses were projected on the screen, and most people, even if they had brought a Bible, seemed to look to the screen. The Bible version wasn’t given, but it was contemporary.

What musical instruments were played?

Three electric guitars and an electric drum. There was also an electric keyboard that was not used in this service.

Did anything distract you?

Since the classrooms directly adjoin the fellowship hall, you could hear the younger children when they left the service and began children’s church, but it was unnoticeable as the service progressed. It was the best kind of distraction, though, since they sounded so happy.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

We sang mostly contemporary hymns and songs that were neither slow nor fast, too loud or too soft. On the last song at the end of the service, the band brought a lot of energy that filled the hall.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

24 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 — The speaker brought a lifetime of faithfulness to his message, and had a vitality to his faith that I hope to have at his age.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

When I heard he was a missionary, I was expecting stories and lessons from the field. He did share some customs from China before and after his message, but he brought an Easter season message around the saying, ‘It’s Saturday, but Sunday’s coming.’ Unexpected and included in the bulletin, along with sermon notes, was a full-color reproduction of Eugene Burnaud’s Holy Saturday, showing the 11 disciples on the day between Good Friday and Easter. He drew the comparison between the disciples dealing with the emotions of disappointment and confusion after the crucifixion, not knowing about the resurrection, and our Saturdays of discouragement and trial, knowing Christ is risen, along with us. A few times he had us speak the saying out loud, and encouraged us to remember it when we are facing hard things.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The warm greeting, and the kindness of the people and the speaker before, during and after the service.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Not so much the other place as it is a different place… During the service they have the children come to the front for their own lesson and it was actually nice seeing the kids upfront who were all well behaved. But the lesson involved a question-and-answer that the kids gave charming but wrong answers to, and a demonstration designed for them to not succeed in, and it was a bit long.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

We didn’t have time to! The speaker and his wife approached us right after the service at our seats, sharing their story, and some adventures they’ve had. We spent so long talking with them that most people had left when we were done.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

They had a counter open to a kitchen for coffee and refreshments when you first entered, but when we had finished talking with others after the service, it had been so long that they had cleared the counter.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 — I’m interested in going back to hear the regular pastor who was away when we visited.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes, the message was encouraging, it pointed to Christ as the reason we can hope in dark times, and the people were genuinely friendly.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

I find it hard to believe I’ll easily forget the saying ‘It’s Saturday, but Sunday’s coming!’ The speaker not only repeated it and had us repeat it throughout the service, but encouraged us to think of it whenever we face difficulties.

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